Family Dinner Is Overrated and by Overrated I Mean a TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY

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Dinner is over, and I am alone, crawling under the kitchen table, wearing the apron I cooked in and used like a full-body napkin while I ate because I am classy like that. I am picking pieces of cold spaghetti off the floor under my 4 year-old’s seat, hoping that if I scoop them up cleanly I won’t have to mop the floor. I will have to mop, though, because my 8- year-old spilled chili all over the legs of his chair, and it dripped onto the distressed hickory that can hide most stains but not that, something I only notice from my turns-out-to-be-futile spot under the table.

I came home this afternoon before I was done with my work with a tote bag full of papers to grade and a handwritten list of emails to send and a classroom management system clogged with unread discussion posts because I “forgot” to make chili last night, and I knew it needed at least 3 hours to simmer if I wanted to enjoy it. And since I braved Sunday afternoon Woodman’s crowds to buy the ingredients and dug through my red-checkered cookbook to find the recipe in my grandpa’s handwriting that I knew was jammed between two sticky pages—I just didn’t know which two—and had already entered the calories into My Fitness Pal, balancing my carbs and protein ratios just so, I DID want to enjoy it.

You know, in retrospect, that was my problem: the idea that sitting down at a table loaded with my family to eat a hot meal while we all talked in low tones about our days would be something I could enjoy. For one thing, there are no low tones at my dinner table. Everybody shouts because my daughter shouts, and the rest of the kids have learned to bellow over her. She sits next to me, so not only am I her perpetual napkin, but I also spend my entire meal responding to her screaming conversation. I also rarely get to eat anything when it’s hot because no one really wants to eat whatever I have made, so my husband and I are constantly leaping up to get this one cold spaghetti and that one a yogurt tube and this one more milk and that one a bagel. I spent eight months of last year trying to avoid this problem by serving all meals family-style on the table with fancy serving dishes, and one of those platters always contained a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to satisfy picky palates. These meals had their own problems—namely the giant mess everyone made passing and serving food and the way the older two kids would be done eating before the grown-ups had filled our plates because we cleaned up at least 2 milk spills and helped a couple of kids with hot broccoli before we could sit down. Also, there were SO MANY DISHES. (Thank you to my Facebook friends who talked me out of buying a soup tureen, by the way. I shudder to think of that mess.)

I didn’t really forget to make the chili the previous night, by the way. I was just too tired to do it after homework and baths and lunch-packing and clothes-laying-out and bedtime stories and dishes, always dishes. I was thinking about it, though. I am always thinking about dinner—what to make, when to make it, when to shop for it, what time to start the crockpot, how long the soup can wait for us in the fridge downstairs, how many nights is too many to eat the rest of this lasagna and can I do anything else with it? Is lasagna salad a thing? And what does the family dinner get me, anyway?

A dog fat from scraps.

10-15 extra pounds of my own. (The other 10 are from wine).

A really sweet apron collection.

A preschooler who calls me a “good cooker.”

Boys who can read recipes and clamor to mix the cookie dough.

Kids who pull stools to the counter with clean hands and pushed up sleeves and earnest helping faces.

Tables laid crookedly with glue, marker, and feather centerpiece masterpieces.

Names of fifth grade girlfriends.

A second grader who thinks “My Country ’Tis of Thee is the liver tree song.

A husband who holds my hand over the Sabbath-candle light dancing in an eight year-old’s eyes when he gets his older brother’s off-color joke.

Security in the closeness of our shoulders and the warmth of the dog brushing our shins as she circles under the table for our crumbs.

The way pots of organic ingredients– my messy, dripping, burned-on-the-bottom rock that I lug up the hill of our kitchen—taste like love, even if they’re sometimes too salty.

Grace granted with every conversational morsel, inclined head, peal of shared laughter offered around the table.

Oh, shut up. I’m not crying. I’m just chopping onions for our next Sisyphean meal.  Cheers.

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Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 5 (F I V E) children: teens Harry and Jack, elementary schoolers Cooper and Dorothy, and sweet baby Minnie, born in August 2020. Sarah blogs about being a mom of many at harrytimes.com and overshares on IG as @sarahjedd. Sarah, her husband, and their kids live in Verona with the world's laziest dog.

2 COMMENTS

  1. And that end list is why we do it. Even when you realize you might not have even eaten a bite yourself. Cause some day, those kids will have families of their own that eat dinner together, where you get to be the grandmother watching your exhausted kids go through the roles you and Ben are now you’ll wisely see the magic of it all from that outsider perspective and know, “Yep, worth it.”

  2. I love this!! What a good reminder that no matter how chaotic dinner is and how much I dislike cooking most nights after a long day at work, we’re doing it for our families. For my family, it’s the one sure time of day that we are all together, looking at each other, talking to each other and just being together. Great post Sarah!

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